Can artificial intelligence replace judges?

GARRY Kasparov was undefeated as world chess champion for 255 months and, therefore, was not in the least concerned when IBM asked him in 1996 to play a game of chess against its Deep Blue computer.

The chess match was the first game in history in which a computer has beaten a human.

Twenty years later, Lee Sedol, one of the top players of the strategy board game Go, was defeated by the AlphaGo computer program.

Exponential progress of AI The victories of the computer are part of the exponential progress of artificial intelligence (AI) in the past two decades in the acquiring, processing and application of specialised knowledge and skills. AI and powerful algorithms, as well as the massive increase in computing power, allowed computers to simulate human cognitive functions and solve complex problems.

One of the characteristics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is that AI is increasingly playing an important role in our daily life. AI is making many decisions for us about what to buy, what to read, and which movies to watch.

AI and the justice system

AI is a powerful tool that is transforming numerous established praxes and industries, including the justice system. Since the arrival of Covid19 we have become accustomed to virtual court proceedings. Elsewhere in the world, robot lawyers and legal rulings determined by AI are being tested. New predictive models, used to discover patterns that are driving judicial decisions, can be useful as a tool for lawyers and judges in their decision-making.

Predicting judgments

In 2016, a team of British and American researchers created an AI system that could predict rulings by human judges by mining the textual content of real-life cases from the European Court of Human Rights.

The AI was trained with 584 court rulings by extracting the relevant sections, whereafter it was used to make a prediction regarding the judgment with an accuracy of 79% on average.

Although the algorithm could not beat humans in nuanced decisions in complex settings, it was pretty accurate in most cases. Advances in machine learning and “explainable AI” (machine learning that can explain how it reached a decision) will, in the future, make the handling of more complex cases possible.

AI handles dispute resolution Since justice is basically an information process of collected information (evidence) and produced information (judgment) after careful consideration, AI finds it easier than a human to handle large amounts of data, examine details of complex cases spanning tens of volumes, and study extensive case law much faster than a human.

AI is assisting the legal fraternity with the management of knowledge, the preparation of draft procedural documents, and the provision of legal advice. AI is also able to handle dispute resolution by collecting, verifying and evaluating evidence in the US and UK; forecasting the probability of winning a dispute; and providing a 24/7 online court service, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, in Canada.

An electronic court

In December last year, the Ukraine introduced AI to its justice system. In February this year, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) approved an Electronic Court where AI would be used for legal advice and the resolution of disputes that are less complex.

The Ukraine Ministry of Justice also intends to use AI software, called Casandra, as a decision support tool in criminal justice to assess the potential risk of recidivism and also help judges in making custodial decisions.

A digital lady justice

When Reed Lawlor said in 1963 that computers would one day be able to analyse and predict the outcomes of judicial decisions, he was correct. Although many lawyers acknowledge the power of AI, most remain unconvinced that AI may threaten their jobs. However, it would be wise to remember that Kasparov and Sedol also took time to realise they had been beaten by a machine.

In the 4IR, technological development is exponential, and it may not be long before AI replaces some roles in the justice system fulfilled by humans. In South Africa, it may improve the huge delay in the judicial system.

It seems that a Digital Lady Justice is after all not so far-fetched as many people would think. In future, AI could very well replace judges.

Professor Louis C H Fourie is a technology strategist.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.


Christin Hakim

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